‘Tombstones’ a gritty mob-inspired drama
For those earning a living by drug trafficking, infernal conduct surrounds efforts to mask their “profession” as legitimate. When the wife of heroin dealer Kenny Kristo (Dan Stevens) is kidnapped, he does not dial 911 or call the police. He pays the ransom. The two dealers holding her hostage snatch the bucks and hack the lady. There will be more kidnappings to come. Dealers may aspire for a millionaire’s retirement like a mob family, but as illustrated in “A Walk Among the Tombstones,” they possess the anti-social personalities of gangsters, whether it be a Tommy gun blazing Capone or “little drives” to an ultimate punishment typical of the infamous Corleone mobsters.
“Tombstones” opens with a sprawling body count street shoot out, but viewers will be more haunted by a repeated brief shot of a helpless pretty blonde, bound and gagged.
Retired, guilt-filled New York cop Matt Scudder (Liam Neeson) throws caution to the wind, accepting the dealer’s proposition to bring his wife’s killer to him for vigilante justice. Working as an unlicensed private eye, Scudder first rejects the 10 grand down payment with disdain. He reconsiders the consequences after learning that these kidnappers have added a second cut up female to their resume.
Plodding the back alleys of New York on the trail of the mentally deranged torturers, Neeson has the appearance of a world weary journalist interviewing witnesses with disinterest. Other than his formerly active badge, he’s just another “Joe” in a trenchcoat canvassing the terrain. No sirens. No fingerprints. No police officers. It’s like the cops stay away from dealer related crimes until bullets clear.
Enter a homeless teen (Brian “Astro” Bradley) determined to sell the loner on the value of partnership, especially one that will provide Bradley with a roof over his head. Amidst the murderous anguish, the young apprentice wannabe is overly enthusiastic about tracking get-a-way vehicles and injecting darkly toned humor, which jingles levity in this otherwise increasingly grisly hourglass ticking thriller.
Amoral behavior and ethics encircle the film’s perimeters hinting homage to those 50s films that had to allow “good” to prevail in order to project on American theater screens. Neeson’s dilemma swirls around a “vengeance is mine” attitude counterbalanced by the prospect of removing the perverted sociopaths from the Earth before more innocent women fall prey. Interestingly Stephens’ trafficker and others downplay their addictive ill-gotten gains as not on the same criminal scale as kidnapping and murder.
“Tombstone” is not an easy watch or listen – the dialogue describes in detail scenes best left off screen. It’s swift and cunning, especially as Neeson sleuths on the left side of law and order as his grueling police procedural legwork draws him closer to the chilling Hannibal Lector-styled hackers.
If Raymond Chandler, Mickey Spillane and other pulp fiction authors stir flashbacks to Phillip Malowe and Sam Spade, you will have a good time dissecting “Tombstone’s” authentic noir elements, contrasting sequences that perhaps should have been exorcised, and weighing whether “Pulp Fiction” favorably revived the black and white, low budget melodramas of the 40s and 50s.